Catholic Sexual Theology and Adolescent Girls – Review

Catholic Sexual Theology and Adolescent Girls: Embodied Flourishing by Doris M. Kieser. Toronto: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2015. 221 p. $38.99 (Paperback).

Catholic Sexual Theology and Adolescent Girls: Embodied Flourishing by Doris M. Kieser was published in 2015 as one of nine books currently available in the Studies in Women and Religion series by Wilfrid Laurier University Press. This book takes a revisionist approach to Roman Catholicism, seeking to align Catholic theology with a feminist worldview. Doris Kieser argues that Roman Catholic theology must acknowledge the importance of embodied experience in the human relationship with the divine, which includes a more comprehensive and positive discourse on human sexuality and pleasure. Kieser specifically focuses on how this discourse can impact the lives of adolescent females in a Western context. Through her advocacy for a positive representation of human embodiment, Kieser suggests that female adolescent sexual flourishing is a compatible, even necessary component to Roman Catholic theology, despite being previously excluded or discouraged within the tradition.

The book progresses thematically by chapter, defining and summarizing each component of Kieser’s argument, until the reader has all of the necessary tools to fully engage with the conclusions in the final chapter. The book begins with Kieser introducing herself and her project in an introductory chapter that serves as a detailed index to the rest of the book, containing Kieser’s goals, methodology, key terms and an outline of the material to come. The second chapter provides a helpful, if brief, philosophical and theological background of natural law, beginning with Thomas Aquinas. Kieser then moves into contemporary understandings of natural law, as well as criticisms of these views. In the third chapter Kieser expounds the framework that she will be using throughout the remainder of the book: feminist natural law as delineated by Cristina Traina. Traina’s theory allows for Kieser to remain within the Roman Catholic tradition without creating dissonance between the notions of adolescent female sexual flourishing and a Roman Catholic worldview; because Traina’s feminist natural law advocates for a common human telos of union with the divine, uniting this natural law with that of Thomas and contemporary Catholicism, as Kieser denotes in the previous chapter. The fourth chapter addresses sex, gender, and sexuality within Roman Catholic theology; with a specific focus on the traditional position of the female as complementary to the male. This ideology not only “others” women, but is also fundamentally non-Christian within Kieser’s theological understanding that the female body is made equally in the image of the divine. This chapter begins with an analysis of female embodiment in traditional theological discourse, looking particularly at the theology of the body presented by Pope John Paul II. It shifts into contemporary feminist scholarship that troubles these traditional understandings of female embodiment, centering on Judith Butler and poststructuralist feminist theory to deconstruct the very notions of sex and gender. This chapter locates this book within contemporary feminist dialogue, specifically within poststructuralist debates regarding the universal and/or the particular, and how these discussions can provide more insight into adolescent female sexual flourishing. Kieser presents a valuable, though condensed, version of this extremely relevant debate in contemporary feminist academia, and ultimately seeks a happy medium between the two extremes of the ideologies: a theology that recognizes individual oppressions within a Catholic framework that proposes a universal female embodiment. Chapter 5 explores developmental factors in adolescence from a Western perspective, highlighting gender construction and identity during this transitional and formative time, specifically how girls become women not physically (Chapter 6), but socially, within a heteronormative culture. The sixth chapter focuses on the physical and neural transitions typical of an adolescent experience in a female body, with specific dedication to the physical and social experience of menarche (first menstruation). Chapter 7 discusses the influences that can effect positive sexual flourishing for adolescent females, looking at how the theories Kieser has explored thus far play out in the lives of these individuals. A noteworthy element within this chapter is Kieser’s relatively lengthy discussion of female desire, which is a much needed conversation within this feminist paradigm of adolescent sexuality, and is a quite thought-provoking subsection in this chapter. Finally, the concluding chapter incorporates all of the previously discerned elements of sex, gender, feminist natural law, and female sexual flourishing within a Catholic theological structure. It is in this final chapter that Kieser explicitly shifts the Catholic theological discussion of sexuality from procreation to pleasure, and an engagement with the divine through human bodily pleasures. In so doing, Kieser provides a space for recognition of same-sex relationships, masturbation, the use of contraception, the importance of female orgasm, and other relevant and contentious issues within both feminist and Christian discourses.

Catholic Sexual Theology and Adolescent Girls: Embodied Flourishing engages with relevant feminist debates, and provides interesting nuances to traditional Catholic theology from within the tradition itself. Kieser’s impetus for writing this book is the lack of information on the subject of female sexuality within a Roman Catholic framework, and more specifically adolescent females and sexual flourishing. This book serves to open up a space for this dialogue, and to establish a Catholic theology that positively impacts and reflects the lived experiences of adolescent females in the Western world. In initiating this conversation however, Kieser must cover a vast amount of information, much of which, due to time and space constraints that she acknowledges, barely scratches the surface of many of the themes explored. Even with this absence of in-depth analysis to many of the topics, reading this book from cover to cover can be an intimidating project. The sheer volume of material, drawing on multiple disciplines like psychology, philosophy, gender studies, religious studies and others, can leave the reader feeling slightly overwhelmed. My recommendation is to instead use this text as a reference point for further study within any of the major themes represented. The structure of the book is conducive to this usage, with each chapter containing an introduction and summary, and convenient subheadings throughout. Kieser also frequently provides lists of authors for further reading, as well as helpful footnotes to define key terms, and expand on key ideologies. As such, this book is an excellent referential resource, as Kieser provides the reader with the tools to interact with her ideas on a deeper level through personal research. Overall the book is an enjoyable glimpse into many contemporary and relevant issues within both Christian and feminist dialogue, and is recommended for any reader interested in the fascinating relationship between these worldviews.

Laurel Andrew

McGill University and Concordia University



Volume 26 Has Been Printed and Received

We’ve just received our copies of Volume 26 – Sexed Religion from the printers! Everyone has been a little swamped with the end of the Winter Semester and start of the Summer Semester, but stay tuned for our “much anticipated” launch event.

To all authors, reviewers and contributors: If you are based outside of Montreal, or will not be in Montreal this summer, and would like to have your copy mailed to you, please get in contact with us when you have a chance. We will also be getting in contact with everyone in the coming week.

Update: Publication Slate

We are in the final stages of editing our upcoming manuscript Sexed Religion. We are currently slated to launch by the end of this month, April 2016 – pending of course, on our printer.

We will be contacting all authors, reviewers and contributors the moment we have the publication back from the press.

In other news, we have also released our upcoming Call for Papers, focusing on Religion, Ideology and Violence. We are now open for submissions, and will begin the editorial process in August 2016.

End of Year Wrap-Up 2015

2015 is coming to a close and here’s where the JRC currently stands:

Our Office

Our office has recovered from the robbery. It’s been cleaned up and looking better than ever before. Sometimes good things can come from tragedy, even if those good things simply mean that we now have more shelf space and didn’t have to feel guilty about tossing old files.

On a related note, most of the editors will be away from the office and unlikely to answer emails very frequently until January 2016.

Book Donations

The JRC has also donated close to a dozen books to Concordia’s Webster Library. Any books which were already found in their collection will be given to the local student-run Book Coop and sold for very little (with the proceeds going to the Coop). Many of these monographs were older review copies which had never been claimed by their reviewers, or were simply lost in the shuffle from a previous editorial team. We hope they find more use in the hands of students.

JRC Volume 26 – Sexed Gender

We are in the process of finalizing our publication slate for No.1 of Vol. 26 of the JRC. A number of factors have delayed our affairs around the office and caused us to miss our initial launch date of first week of December 2015.

We will be launching the first half of the volume online first. We are aiming to have this done over the Holidays, but may still have to push the launch to January.

No. 2 will continue the process in January and into February with the aim of publishing online by end of March 2016.

We still anticipate releasing a print volume this year and have decided, in order to reduce printing costs, to print both parts of the volume together. The print edition is currently slated to be available April 2016.

AGIC 2016

The JRC will once again be on site for this year’s Annual Graduate Interdisciplinary Conference hosted by Concordia’s Graduate Students of Religion Association. The conference topic will coincide with our most recent CFP for Sexed Religion, and we hope to see many of you there.

We should note that the AGIC is still accepting paper abstracts.

Robbery at the JRC

Dear readers, editors and other supporters of the JRC,

This announcement comes with great dismay. The staff of the JRC has to unhappily report that there has been a break-in at the Concorida Religion Annex located at 2050 Mackay resulting in the vandalism of the JRC office along with the robbery of numerous belongings and office supplies.

As far as we can ascertain, the thieves entered the building sometime over the weekend of November 14th, and entered into two rooms on the third floor. One room was relatively untouched, while our office bore the brunt of the vandalism. Neither the front door to the annex nor any of the doors inside were pried open, leaving us to believe that the perpetrator(s) used a key to enter the building.

Apart from the wanton destruction of much of our marketing material and the scattering of our paper records, two laptops, three toner cartridges, a credit card, batteries, gym bags and everything else which was deemed to be of worth, and easily portable (our massive printer was fortunately saved) have been stolen. At this moment the total loss of property appears to exceed $1000.00 – and likely even more if we were to factor in the full original price on the laptops.

The JRC will press ahead despite this great loss to our finances, workspace and morale. We can only hope that Concordia University’s security staff will continue investigating this incident and implement improved security measures for the future as break-ins have been known to happen in the past in this annex.

In light of these events, we apologize in advance for any further delays in communication and alterations to our publication schedule.